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Hamilton, and Thoughts on the Uncanny Valley of Musicals

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 02/20/2017 - 09:54
On Saturday night Krissy and I went and saw Hamilton in New York. This was a moment greatly anticipated by a large number of my friends who had seen the show (or at least listened to the soundtrack) had fallen head over heels in love with it, and who wanted to induct me into their […]

Leaving New York

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 02/19/2017 - 10:52
Dear New York: You gave us a delightful weekend, and we loved visiting you, but now I’m afraid we must depart and return to our Ohio environs. Thank you for having us. We’ll be back again, you can be sure. (Also, for all of you who want a Hamilton review from me, I’ll be posting […]

Today’s Visit to the Central Park Zoo, In Tweets

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 02/18/2017 - 17:09
Ominous sequence. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 18, 2017 Weird looking cat. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 18, 2017 Also a weird looking cat. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 18, 2017 Seriously what's up with the cats in this place. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 18, 2017 I really feel these […]

Post-election: picking up the pieces

Contrary Brin - Fri, 02/17/2017 - 16:15
Okay, back to a general post-mortem: let’s focus on the election itself, starting with two quick dismissals.  This was not about working class pain, or racism.
Yeah, yeah, I hear your howls. And sure, maybe a third of Trump voters have some justified sense of grievance over jobs. Unemployment dropped dramatically under Obama and his near-record departing-popularity reflects this. But changes in the U.S. industrial landscape have resulted in fewer workers getting the high-class and highly-paid manufacturing billets their dads had. Sure, automation is far more to blame than outsourcing, and Republican oligarchs did far more to outsource than democrats. Still, there’s real pain there. Clinton should have addressed it better…
…and yet, less than a third of Trump voters were even remotely in that category. The rest are doing fine, economically. Many of them even know, grudgingly, that Democrats manage the economy better than Republicans do. Always.

No, their rage was cultural and psychological, not economic.
The same holds for racism. Yes, sure, it plays a role! And I hate it. And we need to fight it. And sure, maybe a third of Trump voters are affected by that poison. And many of the rest suffer from the new version -- lazy racism -- that has replaced much of the overt kind. White people who sit back, envision the scores of black and latino personalities they like, and the biracial couples they enjoy on TV, and conclude that means racism doesn’t apply to them. It gives them excuse to shrug and declare “racism is dead!” With the real, underlying complaint: “stop nagging me!”         Look, I accept all of that and again declare that we must fight it, as we fought, earlier, more overt forms of this disease. And we need to accelerate the trend that already began under Obama, of bringing manufacturing home. But let’s be clear… neither of these explanations for Trumpism correlate with all Trump voters.
I believe I know a better correlation. One that has an almost 100% overlap. But let’s hear from some others, first.
== Psychological theories – starting with Good vs evil ==
Why Rural America Voted for Trump: Robert Leonard, a New York Times reporter who grew up in rural Iowa offers perspective on the cultural divide between red and blue counties in the United States: 

“Political analysts have talked about how ignorance, racism, sexism, nationalism, Islamophobia, economic disenfranchisement and the decline of the middle class contributed to the popularity of Mr. Trump in rural America. But this misses the deeper cultural factors that shape the thinking of the conservatives who live here.”
This piece is flawed, missing several crucial aspects of “culture war,” such as the growling resentment that’s been spurred against all professions of knowledge. But some of the narratives that confederates tell each other do go back a long way, even to pre Civil War times, and we need to listen – in order to refute.
He quotes one Baptist minister: “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that. We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.” He continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”
This drivel is an example of the many narratives that are used, to justify a hate that boils and overwhelms any attempt at negotiation or conversation.  Nor are facts - such as pragmatic outcomes - able to penetrate. If we subtract outliers like Utah and Detroit and Chicago, name a metric of moral and healthy living that is not worse in Red America, from teen sex, STD and pregnancy rates to obesity, dropouts, divorce and domestic violence, gambling and so on. Name... one... exception. Other than abortion which is a disagreement over fundamentals. See also: Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild.
The NYT report implies that vast sums of money flow from red to blue America, when in fact it is largely the other way around. Indeed, as my family watches Bryan Cranston’s riveting depiction of LBJ, in “All The Way,” I am reminded of images from the America I knew, back when Trumpists claim America was great, when the South and Appalachia were synonymous with grinding, hillbilly poverty. Images that should embarrass those now screaming that “government never does any good.”
No, the source of Red America’s trauma runs deeper. 

What hurts is the annual brain drain. The fact that every June, at the local high school - the center of all life in rural towns - the brightest kids weep and hug and swear to keep in touch… then scoot as fast as they can to the universities and bright cities that thereupon, at a deep, psychic level, become associated with blandishment and the stealing of hope. The stealing of your children. But we’ll get back to that
Another claim is that the problem is generational. If only America could return to the 1950s again. The romantic personality is always drawn to wistful homesickness for a past that never was. See How nostalgia for white Christian America drove so many Americans to vote for Trump by Sarah Pulliam Bailey in The Washington Post. 
These romantic yearnings for a fabled fifties are insidious and it is vital to answer them. You’ll make little progress by talking about the racism and sexism of that period, not when some of these folks yearn for an era when everyone knew his or her place.  What you can do is tear to shreds their every assertion, as I did in my posting: Was 1957 America Better Than Today? 
Even better, point out that the Greatest Generation of that era voted for high taxes on the rich, joined strong unions, and adored, above all living humans, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
== The power of metaphor: dad vs. mom ==
Earlier I mentioned the brilliant master of language, George Lakoff, who tried to tell the Clinton campaign they were combatting Trump in all the wrong ways. 

“The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that’s exactly what his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what actually was helping Trump with his supporters.
“I tried to convince people in the Clinton campaign — early on, I wrote a piece called “Understanding Trump,” in March 2016, and it was sent to everybody in the Clinton campaign. Everybody at the PAC, for example, got a copy of it. It didn’t matter; they were doing what they were told to do.” says Lakoff.
Lakoff continues: “All progressives and liberals have a moral worldview, what I described as the nurturant-parent worldview. (But despite his many anti hispanic statements,) many Latinos voted for Trump. Why? Because “strict father” morality is big in Latino culture. The campaign was not looking at values. They were looking at demographics, and they missed the role of values.”  
Lakoff urged liberals to sell the notion that the “father” such voters need is the one composed of our common will, in fairly negotiated government, not a strongman caudillo, like Bush or Trump.  It is more abstract, but it could be sold, if Democrats would only try.  That would mean actually standing up for science and journalism and all the other knowledge professions. And yes, even the civil service.
Another psychological factor should be obvious, from the core character trait of the man these folks elected president. Pride is indeed key, and it takes a weird form, in Red America. Watch some of the riffs of the "Redneck Comedy Tour"… later re-named “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.” Seriously, rent some of the videos, in order to better understand. The humor is excellent!Endearingly self-effacing and self-mocking... only…
Only, after a while you realize, with a shiver, that all the self effacing jokes amount to a form of bragging. There's an implication, underlying every jest about good-ol' boy dumbness, that their fervidly passionate simplicity is more genuine, and "real," and vastly preferable over being a smartass college boy.
Indeed, I assert that this is what won Trump the election.  And I’ll explain next time.
== We coulda used a bit more Luther, or rather Lyndon ==
While we’re thinking about the most under-rated president of the 20thCentury... for those of you needing solace: watch Bryan Cranston's spectacular portrayal of LBJ in "All The Way." If he doesn't get an Oscar, there's no justice.
For decades I have fumed that no one would tell the story of Lyndon Johnson and all he did for our nation, refuting pathetically vile depictions by the likes of Oliver Stone. LBJ's loyalty to JFK's dreams was carried out with dispatch, passion -- and yes the ruthless political cunning this film so accurately showed. If you are shuddering over today's transition, imagine the majority of parallel worlds withoutthe combination of JFK's assassination and LBJ's relentless push, where the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the '65 Voting Rights Act did not happen. The flames that would have consumed us, as our souls would likely have deserved.
Sure, there are red states where those rights are undermined by foul tricks, like gerrymandering. Indeed, we could certainly have done even better. But the playing field shifted, because of Johnson, to a better and more fair nation. And but for Vietnam, he would have crushed Nixon in '68 and we'd all have been the wiser for it.
Oh, is there an award for casting? Seriously, I never saw an array of actors who so looked like their historical counterparts! I recognized Humphrey, Dirksen, McNamara, Hoover and so on, at first sight, and the Martin Luther King role (played by Anthony Mackie) was perfection! Alas, this is all the movie that Hubert Humphrey will ever get. But most of us don't get movies. 
== Is that pertinent to today? ==
Maureen Dowd interviews Peter Thiel: "When I remark that President Obama had eight years without any ethical shadiness, Mr. Thiel flips it, nothing: “But there’s a point where no corruption can be a bad thing. It can mean that things are too boring.”  
Want irony? I kinda agree. I do wish Barack Obama had been slightly more like LBJ, with just a tad better instincts for the jugular and political knife fighting. His relentless attempts to negotiate with a cult whose central code — the Hastert Rule — was and remains to never, ever negotiate with Democrats, even for the good of the nation, seemed foolish and kinda pathetic after a while…
…though endearing, as the Democrats provided us with two 8-year presidencies that saw not a single administration high official convicted or even indicted for malfeasance of office. Dig that.  not one. Only the first and second times that happened in U.S. history.
That utter proof of honesty, combined with the utter fruitlessness of a 24 year, half-billion dollar endless search for something to pin on the Clintons, ought to affect any rational mind, especially in comparison to the endless lists of calumnies and crimes committed by both Bush regimes and (even before entering office) by the Trump Administration.
Oh, but the cult is immune to facts or irony. 

Here’s a test: any GOP lurkers out there, can you name one of the apocalyptic predictions about president Obama that came true? That even got broached or proposed by him? DHS internment camps? UN black helicopters? Swarms of henchmen confiscating guns? Forced abortions?
What none? Zero? And there's no embarrassment over there? None at all?
This is culture war. And the Confederacy is ahead. But Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory….
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Matt Ruff

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/17/2017 - 10:21
Books are often turned into television series — but what about stories going to the other direction? As Matt Ruff shows you in this Big Idea for Lovecraft Country, stories intended for one medium sometimes find their full flower in another entirely. MATT RUFF: Lovecraft Country started out as a TV series pitch. The big […]

Tech marvels and wonders

Contrary Brin - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 18:54
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Changing the future of of the hyperloop companies claims to be ready for full-scale tests.

An F/A-18 Hornet releases a swarm of over a hundred mini drones that swarm with collective intelligence, like birds.  Yow.

The future of “breath-analysis.” In a potential breakthrough in rapid-diagnostic medicine, a team used mass spectrometry to identify the breath components associated with each of 17 diseases. By analyzing the results with artificial intelligence techniques (binary classifiers), the team found that each disease produces a unique breathprint, based on differing amounts of 13 volatile organic chemical (VOC) components. They also showed that the presence of one disease would not prevent the detection of others.
So far, measurements of the response of an anti-hydrogen atom to light suggests that it responds identically to regular hydrogen.  In 2018, scientists hope to get a much better grip on whether the same thing applies to gravity.  So far, the standard model is holding.

Marvel at the physics of everyday life with Storm in a Teacup by Helen Czersky, which examines mysteries mundane and grand, from the kitchen to the night sky. 
In the scientific songs department, Tom Lehrer's classic ditty about the periodic table has been superseded by ASAPScience. Set to "Orpheus in the Underworld", it covers elements up to 118. With applications. Though now badly needing updates.

Is Botox another weapon against depression?  Perhaps it will help John Kerry to not grimace as his State Department is sold to the Kremlin.  (Couldn't help it.)
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== Technologic wonders ==

The start of mass production at Tesla’s massive battery Gigafactory near Reno NV is a huge milestone in Tesla’s quest to electrify transportation, and it brings to America a manufacturing industry—battery cells—that’s long been dominated by China, Japan, and South Korea. 

Tech offers a human touch... “Easily the most anticipated product at the CES 2017 — and without question 2017’s most promising transformative technology — is Spinali Design’s vibrating short-shorts, which sync with your phone and translate directions from your favorite navigation app into goading twitches to your left or right cheeks.” 
Bosch offered a concept car at CES that emphasizes changes to the interior driver and passenger environment, including hand gesture controls and haptic feedback.
Printed electronics are the next wowzer thing. But techniques need improvement. Currently, a trail of nanoparticles of silver must then be heated to make a conducting wire.  But new methods laying down nanowires may get past this, and allow better conductivity with fewer resources.

A new kind of organic coating… made from banana peels and such… may delay fruit ripening much better, allowing it to be picked later and yet be stored longer. Ripening can even be timed so one banana of that bunch you bought will be ready each day of the week.
MIT researchers have developed a radical design for a low-cost, miniaturized microscope that can chemically identify individual micrometer-sized particles. Low-cost, ten-times-higher-resolution spectroscopy technique could allow for detection of microscopic amounts of chemicals for applications in security, law enforcement, and research.
== Nature and history ==
In a Myanmar flea market, a huge find – the feathered tail of an infant dinosaur 99 million years old, now under study by researchers at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada.
So cool. I hope someday to visit the newly opened replica of Lascaux Cave, that’s been erected right next to the original. 
Okay folks, I have been reminding you that you lived in a civilization that did wonderful adventures in space exploration and science. (We’ll see if it continues.) But did you know you also live in a civilization that made way-cool goggles for a parrot named Obiwan so they could watch it fly safely through a laser field?
Gorgeous. The annual nature photography award winners
Finally... a look a heroes of books: Boing Boing reports: “Two employees at the East Lake County Library created a fictional patron called Chuck Finley -- entering fake driver's license and address details into the library system -- and then used the account to check out 2,361 books over nine months in 2016, in order to trick the system into believing that the books they loved were being circulated to the library's patrons, thus rescuing the books from automated purges of low-popularity titles.”

Ah, to live in a society where that is the epitome of official corruption.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

View From a Hotel Window, 2/16/17: New York

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 17:05
Not here on business — well, that’s not entirely true, I’m doing a little bit of business while I’m here. But I’m mostly here for a Valentine’s weekend with Krissy, where the plan is to camp out in a hotel room, order lots of room service, and maybe see the play that’s going on across […]

New Books and ARCs, 2/15/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/15/2017 - 16:08
Here’s a super-sized stack of new books and ARCs that arrived over the last couple of days to the Scalzi Compound. I just know there’s something calling to you from the stack. Tell us what it is in the comments!

The Collapsing Empire Review in Booklist + Chapters One and Two (and Soon Three) On Tor.Com

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/15/2017 - 12:12
So! Here’s what’s news in the land of The Collapsing Empire: 1. A review of the book is up from Booklist, and it’s pretty great. Here’s the bit I especially like: “Fans of Game of Thrones and Dune will enjoy this bawdy, brutal, and brilliant political adventure”. It also praises my “well-known wit, whimsy, and […]

The Big Idea: Jacqueline Carey

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 02/14/2017 - 11:31
Shakespeare is a font of inspiration for writers, not only for the words he put to paper, but for the worlds built around the words. For her new novel Miranda and Caliban, Jacqueline Carey explores the world of The Tempest, one of the bard’s greatest play. What does she find there? Here she is to […]

It's a tough world out there: and now a drumbeat for war on Iran.

Contrary Brin - Mon, 02/13/2017 - 18:40
Papa Heinlein promised us interesting times during what he forecast as "The Crazy Years." And boy are we in it.  I'll have more, later, about Heinlein's creepy-on-target prescience. But today, let's focus on International affairs.

= The scariest thing ==
Of course the thing to dread is misuse of the powers of the state, either turning them against us or else spasmodically flinging them about in ways that do us harm… perhaps even more harm than the Bushites did with their loony Iraq Wars. Maybe even existential harm. It’s not untoward to imagine the very worst -- as I did in The Postman -- when some of the men being appointed over our armed forces are as gung-ho about using them as were George W. Bush’s pack of raving neocons.
This article suggests that “the one connective tissue between all the people (Trump) is choosing, whether it's Flynn or Mattis, or any of these guys. They all want to attack Iranin some form or another. And so do the Saudis.”
Now, in some ways, this is just standard Republican dogma. The Bush family was, and remains, little more than a cadet branch of the Saudi Royal House. (See pictures of GWB holding hands with the Saudi King and kissing a prince on the mouth.) Yes, the first Iraq War served Saudi purposes to a T. 

The second, under Bush Junior, had unexpected side effects, dramatically enhancing Iranand a Shiite axis that’s allied with Moscow. Subsequent GOP saber rattling at Tehran is supposedly aimed at correcting that mistake.  
To be clear, I do distinguish between Gen. Flynn and Gen. Mattis. The latter may prove more mainstream and possibly much more sane than Mr. Trump currently bargains for. Mattis might, indeed, dig in his heels when the president starts attempting an Erdogan-style purge of the Officer Corps.  He has already forced a change in Trump’s adolescent fixation on torture. We can hope. 
== The Iran-Moscow Great Game ==
Okay, so Donald Trump has packed his cabinet with saber-waving Iran haters. Men who never mention Riyadh in their jeremiads against terrorism -- or in Muslim travel bans -- ignoring the blatant fact... that those terrorist attackers who actually harmed us have nearly all been rooted in the Saudis, not Iranians. Why should they mention such inconveniences, when the Saudis were recent masters of the GOP (before Moscow snatched the reins) and still business partners of Rupert Murdoch.
In fact, as Obama and anyone sensible knew, Iran is a complex and highly educated society, with half the populace so eager to join the democratic world that they could plotz. See Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran, by Laura Secor.) 

Fostering that transition was a sought-after benefit from the Iran nuclear deal, but also deeply feared by the Iranian theocrats, who have done everything in their power to quash their people’s rising secular-western movement.
Why do you think they rattle their own sabers, at us? Indeed, the mullahs would like nothing better than for histrionics to pour from Washington, driving more of the Persian polity back into their arms.
Then why do it? For domestic consumption. And to bolster the Saudi cause (which has included the spread of hate-fest madrassas all over the world, which created both Al Qaeda and ISIS.)  

But there’s more. Nothing delights Donald Trump’s best pal — the Kremlin — more than the U.S. driving someone else into their growing anti-western alliance. That axis now includes Edogan of Turkey, Assad in Syria, many elements of the Shiite regime in Baghdad… and the mullahs in Tehran. When Trump and his team screech at Iran, you can be sure Putin will be chortling with glee, as this helps to eliminate reformers in Tehran and will cement his alliance with the mullahs.
Indeed, that is probably the very reason why – on Moscow’s orders – there are so many Iran haters sweeping into Trump's cabinet. That plus the alluring fantasy of taking Iranian oil off the world market and driving prices above $100/barrel. Yum!
The Saudis are watching all of this, and despite their dream of higher oil prices, one has to wonder… are they truly silly enough to be glad that Trumpists are waving sabers at Tehran? And get the Persians back to work on their bomb?

Not if the princes are half as smart as their publicity flacks claim. Alas, like most inheritance lords, the Princes are likely much less bright than they believe. If they have three brain cells among them, they would see that driving the Iranian people into the mullahs’ arms, and driving the mullahs into Putin’s, will not ultimately go well for them. But a secular democratic Iran (Obama’s goal) would be harmless to Saudi interests. Are the Saudis perhaps wringing their hands with uncertainty?
One is tempted by schaedenfreude, to enjoy their pain at having created this situation, when they were the puppet masters with strings into the Bush White House. (Today those strings lead to Moscow.) Still, the Saudis have it in their power to prevent all this, by one simple means. Stepping up to finance what they prevented for 70 years, peace between Israel and the Sunni Arab world. 

They could do this, though it would take real imagination and grit (and a lot of cash.) And it would transform the Middle East, making it a safer place… yes, for them, as well.
== Ponder extreme up- and downside possibilities. ==

Try this exercise. Map our best and worst case scenarios. The best we can hope for, from a Saudi alliance is some slight tempering of the Wahabbist propaganda, teaching millions of young Sunnis to wage terror on the West. Ain’t much, and I doubt that Trump will even ask for that.
The worst? If we walk away from Riyadh? Nothing. Their era of relevance is over, since America recently (under Obama) achieved practical energy independence. Indeed, without the press or politicians noticing, we have withdrawn all our carriers from the Persian Gulf. Because it simply isn’t our “lifeline” anymore.  A strategic victory of stunning magnitude – that's gone unnoticed.
So. What is the upside, if we make friends with the Iranian people and work with them to render their mullahs impotent? Spectacular benefits, huge. Picture what the Ayatollahs fear. Prosperous middle class Iranian women in... pants? A vast, educated middle class taking charge of their own fates? Oh, how the mullahs wanted Trump! (Note that this upside is completely unavailable in Saudi.  There is no such secular-yearning, vast middle class over there, eager to join us in modernity, as there is in Iran.)

Oh, the downsides of turning the Iranians back into a raving, bomb-building theocracy are just as large, in the opposite direction. But expect no such complex thinking in this White House.
The picture I just painted… is so sad. Both Bush presidencies, puppeted by Riyadh, and a Trump regime puppeted from Moscow, actually helping the Iranian mullahs by yelling at them.  And they call these “strong fathers”?

 "Even the power of the presidency has considerable limits inside US borders. It’s the rest of the world I’m more concerned about, because it may look very different very quickly with Trump stomping around. If he continues this “America first” claptrap, regional powers like Russia, China, and Iran will grab the chance to expand influence, including militarily. The European Union may fall apart, and the far right may continue to make advances across Europe." 
                         - former world chess champion Gary Kasparov (@Kasparov63)

== A rough world ==
Here's one area where I kind of agree with Donald Trump.  Our News Media aren't very smart. 

Oh, they try hard to champion truth!  In fact, only scientists are so badly maligned, by the fact hating right. Still, so caught up are even our best reporters, in breathlessly reporting the latest Trumpian lie volcano, that they cannot step back and counter it all with big picture perspective.

Take the gigantic setback to Russian policy that happened when Vladimir Putin's pal and viceroy in the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted by pro-western protesters on 22 February 2014, and thereupon he fled the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev. Just three years ago, it was the worst setback to Moscow's hegemonism since the collapse of the USSR. Moreover Putin himself laid that whole event at the feet of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
How dumb of the press and the democrats to let the right call Obama and Clinton "feckless victims of Putin-cleverness," when theirs was the far greater coup!  Rather, Putin called them clever, machiavellian devils and he railed about the west having "stolen" Ukraine... yet our press made almost nothing of it, playing up Putin's subsequent nibble-backs of Crimea and the Donbas, feeding the calumny that Obama was "feckless" or "impotent." 

Putin attributed Obama with plenty of "feck." Go look at a map. Compare Crimea (which was never Ukrainian in the first place) to the huge Ukraine, and tell us your "feckless" narratives. 
== Demographics is friendlier to our nation of immigrants ==
Yes, the puppet strings from the Kremlin are disturbing. Only there is solace to be found in basic reality.

Lacking an empire, the prospect of a Russian titan, that seems so attractive to Trump supporters, may hit a wall. A demographic wall. 

"Without remedial action, Russia’s population could shrink to 113 million by 2050, a decrease of more than 20 percent from today’s population of 144 million." 

While the picture has grown slightly better, the last two years, Moscow's priorities (according to this report) aim at other perceived problems, like reviving the appearance of superpower status:
"Russia is in the midst of a massive military spending boom. Many of the increases in defense spending, the news agency reports, are in the “black budget”: expenditures authorized by Putin but not publicly announced, often due to opaque national security concerns."  And "...military expenditures have increased by a factor of 20 since Putin became president 15 years ago, and defense and security now account for some 34 percent of Russia’s budget. That is nearly double the proportion of the U.S. budget." 
Well, that is one way to hold onto Siberia, in the face of a resurgent China. Still, it makes one wonder about the cult of Putin idolatry on the American right. 

Sure he's smart. And good looking. And testosteronic. And one of the few "strongmen" who seems actually strong. So? I suspect another somewhat admirable trait that no one else seems to figure on. I think there's a chance that Vladimir Putin is sincere, and still loyal to the things he swore devotion to, at age 18.
No, I don’t blame him. I blame an American cult-of-the-strong-father that lets itself be talked into slavish admiration for a Slavic regime whose arms buildup is aimed -- along with thousands of nuclear weapons -- directly at us.
=====     =====      =====

Addendum: Sorry but it has to be said again, our news media are dumb! They zero in on the stupidities of the "Muslim Immigration Ban"... fine.  They show the recent lie spewed by the Trump White House - that terror attacks went under-reported (there are no actual examples.) Fine. But do they connect the dots?

Dig it. The Trumpists are terrified someone with guts will say "What terrorism?" 

Seriously, our parents in the Greatest Generation suffered more losses in any single week of WWII than we have across decades of "Islamic Terror."

 If there's a case for increasing the vigilance of "vetting," then fine: we'd all love to see your plan. Tracking exit status of visa holders is long overdue, for example. Obama was already doing all of that.

 But to issue screeching, blanket, ill-considered directives that take all our departments by surprise, banish legit Green Card holders and leave babies unable to get surgery? Justifying it as an "emergency"? After President Obama reigned over the safest period in the history of the republic?

Now you can see why DT had to rail that there really is more terrorism!  It just went unreported!!

Alas, when this narrative collapses, there will be left for him just one option. And we are counting on our skilled professionals to beware. To catch it in time.

A Reichstag Fire.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The View From the Top of Amazon’s Heap

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 02/12/2017 - 13:35
Yesterday nine of my novels were on sale for $2.99 in ebook format, across a bunch of different retailers, but most prominently on Amazon, because, well, Amazon. Amazon has a number of different ways to make authors feel competitive and neurotic, one of which is its “Amazon Author Rank,” which tells you where you fit […]

One Day eBook Sale: Old Man’s War series + Redshirts, Lock In and Fuzzy Nation, $2.99 Each

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 02/11/2017 - 07:40
Hey, if you live in the United States or Canada and like your books in electronic form, then for today only (February 11, 2017), a whole bunch of my ebooks are on sale for $2.99 each. Which books? Old Man’s War The Ghost Brigades The Last Colony Zoe’s Tale The Human Division The End of All […]

Can cheating be combatted?

Contrary Brin - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 19:25
As I mentioned, earlier, liberals should start practicing judo. Start by accepting Trump’s demand for a commission to investigate electoral fraud. A call that is now echoed in this article from Salon. Watch, as they scurry to back away from the demand.
Indeed. Former Attorney General Eric Holder has signed on to lead the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a newly formed political group aimed at untangling the creatively drawn districts that have helped cement the Republican Party in power, both in Washington and many state capitals. Mind you, Gerrymandering is a crime against the American people by the entire political caste and for years both parties practiced the foul art, as I dissected here. Along with ways that youpersonally and all by yourself can defeat it, here. And yes I mean you, all by yourself.
Recent years have seen citizen uprisings in many blue states, where ballot measures instituted nonpartisan commissions to draw the districts for Congress and state legislatures. This as happened only in blues like California, Washington, Oregon and so on, leading to much hand-rubbing glee, at first, among republicans, who saw this as “political suicide” by democratic voters. 

(Libertarians note: these are the same states that are decriminalizing marijuana and doing other things top get oppression off your back. They are also thriving vastly better than red states.)
Only lo and behold, a funny thing happened. With more neutral districting, Democrats did better at the polls. It seemed that voters trusted those legislators more, not less, when they had to work hard, each election, rather than taking their constituents for granted. 

Which led to my call for Democrats to abandon gerrymandering altogether, especially in DP dominated states that still use it, like Illinois and Maryland. All those exceptions have accomplished, overall, was to let Republicans cry “See? Everybody does it!”
I doubt that Holder or Obama actually listened to me. Still, it seems my advice is being carried out. Obama and Holder will jawbone Illinois, Maryland and others to abandon gerrymandering, so that it will become strictly a Republican crime. Instead of just mostly a Republican crime.
At which point we might see whether Justice Roberts and Justice Alito -- and Justice Gorsuch -- are still able to stomach the utterly intolerable. Or whether those three can rouse themselves to be citizens first, before and above being partisan hacks. (We will see a number of occasions, over the next few years, when those three might hold the fate of our Great Experiment in their hands.)
== The simplest solution to a cheat ==
As it happens, Roberts and Alito earlier held back from meddling in gerrymandering, because they saw no clear way to prescribe a redistricting process. Only here’s the thing: you don’t even have to demand impartial redistricting commissions! I have long reponded with a three sentence solution:
(1) Set some upper limit to all districts’ perimeter-to-area ratio. (You can be generous; just forbid the absurdly contorted.)
(2) The legislature – or some commission -- may establish the boundaries, but…
(3) There must be minimal overlap between the boundaries of districts for state assembly, state senate and Congress.Hence, if they gerry one house to benefit their own party, fine! They’ll mess themselves up in the other two. 

There you go.  No need for formulas or “commissions.” Problem solved. Do it. Just do it.
There is, of course, a way for we citizens, ourselves, to defeat gerrymandering cheats, at least a bit, even if the crooks manage to cling to their criminal practice. If politicians have contrived things so that only one party can ever win in your district, then register as a member of that party! That way, you can vote in the only election that matters in your district, the primary. 
Seriously, you betray nothing by registering as a Republican, if that’s the party that owns your district. You can then help moderatesto win the local nominations and to withstand Tea Party/Breitbart bullying challenges. (And note, you conservativeswho live in Santa Monica or some other liberal enclave, this can work both ways!) Think about it.

This proved unnecessary after California's brilliant reforms, with non-partisan primaries and top-two runoffs in the fall. It has led to amazing outcomes, with moderates winning in both parties and the minorities in each district gaining clout!
 == Our side: Reduced to essentials ==
Exaggerating a bit to make a powerful point, this essay by Yonatan Zunger asserts provocatively that Tolerance is a Peace Treaty, not a moral precept. A powerfully important treaty, yes, that allows us to create far more complex, effective, productive and happy societies. But ultimately one based on pragmatism, which is vastly stronger than any "value system." 
When tolerance, diversity and all those nice things are called moral-axiom absolutes, that weakensthem! Because someone else can simply shrug and cancel your hifalutin Core Value by saying "I have differentcore values. Different axioms." (Like holy writ telling me that your kind are filth.)
Our tolerant, diverse, positive-sum society needs no such axiomatic crutches! Amid our complexity, we've prospered and achieved more, in a few generations, than all others combined, across all continents and 6000+ years. There are zero positive metrics - from art to fun to prosperity to happiness, to soulful contemplation - in which this approach has not been rewarded multiplicatively, not arithmetically. When it comes to science and knowledge - gathering the tools and powers of creation - we've been rewarded exponentially. That is one heap of validation for free speech, tolerance, flat class structures and the rule of law.
There are powers who see where this is going. If the Enlightenment thrives for just one more generation, we'll reach a critical mass of bright youths and citizens committed to their own blatant self interest, in this positive sum miracle. Those aiming to reinstate traditional human governance styles of oligarchy and feudal-inherited privilege know that they have just a narrow window of time in which to bring the experiment crashing down.
Their chief tool - fomenting frantic, anti-future populism among a fact-averse lumpenproletariat- worked somewhat in 1930s Europe. It took grit and courage - yes, militancy - to face down that last major oligarchic putsch. Indeed, our Great Experiment will only be rescued by determined will and goodwill, as it was from evil empires in the 1860s, the 1940s and across the Cold War.
It requires that we view Tolerance and Freedom of Speech and class-flatness not only as our core tenets but also as the greatest tools ever discovered for achieving positive sum outcomes. Tolerance is our oxygen, our practical need, not a catechism that can be used against us.
Read this piece. Then recall how I have been poking at audiences for decades with a deliberately aggressive call to arms, rousing appreciative, if nervous laughter: 

"We must go forth and crush every worldview that does not accept diversity and tolerance!"
If that does not wring from you a tense, ironic smile -- maybe a chuckle that is both nervous and determined -- then you just don't get it. How dissonant, contradictory, yet necessarily militant we are obliged to be, to save the fecund, wondrous peace our predecessors won. See my essay: The Dogma of Otherness.
Oh but alas. Here’s your openness and transparency.  “Paul Ryan Proposes Ban on Live-Streaming From House Floor.
== Let the comparisons begin! ==
I’ve recommended that the fact-centered half of our civil war use wagers!  I'll offer a major missive about that, soon. Meanwhile though, note that the maneuver can only work if you parse the bets so clearly that there’s no wriggle room and the facts are overwhelmingly clear. Like defying  your favorite confederate cultist to name fact-based professions that are not warred upon by Fox.

Or to name a major metric of U.S. national health that does not do vastly better, across the span of democratic presidencies.  
Case in point: U.S. consumer confidence has boomed to its highest level since 2001 -- yes, higher than at the peak of the housing boom.  Reinforcing the almost perfect correlation that every single large and attributable metric of U.S. national health does better across the span of Democratic administrations than across their republican predecessors.  Usually “oppositely” better. (In other words, most such metrics plummeted across both Bush Administrations.)
More comparisons here.
Let’s gather these.  If the pattern persists, it will help us to pry some intelligent “ostrich” conservatives’ head out of holes-of-denial.  And all it will take is a few… million… of them to make the difference that saves us.
And it begins.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 2/10/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 17:24
As we move into the weekend, here’s another stack of fine books and ARCs that have recently come into the Scalzi Compound. Which of these titles moves you? Tell us all in the comments!

Three Weeks Into Trump’s America

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 13:59
Hey, Scalzi! It is I, your fake interlocutor! I wish to ask you about your thoughts on Trump and the news this week! Ugh. I mean, okay? I guess? You don’t sound excited! I’m at this place where I do want to talk about what’s going on in with our government, and at the same […]

The Big Idea: Kameron Hurley

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 11:24
I start this Big Idea for The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley, with a disclosure: I liked the book enough to blurb it (you can see the blurb right there on the cover, above). Why did I like it? Well, as it happens, Kameron’s piece today will go a long way to explain. KAMERON […]

“The Dispatcher” a Finalist for Two Audies + Locus Award Voting + Nebula and Hugo Award Voting + Print Preorder Info

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 16:11
So, this is a good day for me: The Dispatcher, my novella that was released as an audiobook from Audible, is a finalist for two(!) Audie Awards, first in the category of Science Fiction, and second in the category of Original Work (meaning, first published in audio form). I’m thrilled about both, and it’s lovely to […]

Announcing the 2017 Audie Award Finalists in the Fantasy Category

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 11:16
Hey! I get to tell you which works, authors and narrators are finalists for the 2017 Audie Award in the category of Fantasy. The Audies are the highest award in the audio book industry, so being a finalist for one of its categories is a very fine honor indeed. This year, the finalists for the […]

The Big Idea: Stephen H. Provost

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 11:00
It can happen that writing a book of one sort can be the genesis for a book of another sort entirely: Writing a non-fiction book inspired Stephen H. Provost to have a big idea for a fictional tale, one that developed into his new novel Memortality. Here’ he explains how he got from the one […]
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